It is unlikely that the Missouri Valley's opening weekend will actually be predictive of an entire season, but the quick take isn't difficult to come up with: The teams that are expected to be good are good, and the teams we expect to be bad are bad. There's no way to expect that to hold true, though, but the results may help us set an early benchmark for what is expected from each of the Valley teams.
Wichita State 71, New Mexico State 54
The Shockers start of their season ranked #11 by the AP, an entirely reasonable expectation for a team that proved themselves last season against "power" conference competition and other strong Mid-Majors. If nothing else, they have already proved themselves against the WAC front runner in an impressive fashion.
Coach Marshall may have not been happy with some of the smaller parts of WSU's game - such as being bested on defensive rebounds by a much larger Aggie team or some inconsistent offensive play - but his squad's solid overall game kept any flaws under control. Particularly, junior guard Fred Van Vleet's 7 steals (along with 13 more Aggie turnovers) limited NMSU's total shots. Combined with Tekele Cotton's (Sr-G) ever-stifling defensive game, the Shockers never really gave the Aggies a chance.
Indiana State 79, IUPUI 66 - OT
Khristian Smith (Jr-G) has already stepped up in a big way the the Sycamores. With the back and forth game coming down to the last six minutes of the second half, Smith ripped off 12 points to put his team in the lead until IUPUI's Marcellus Barksdale (Jr-G) tied it with two free throws. Smith then took advantage of overtime to score 4 and tie his career high in points at 27. The game was intense all the way until overtime, when the experienced Sycs took charge to not only score 16, but to limit IUPUI to 3 in extra time.
Free throws were really the story of Barksdale's night, as he lead IUPUI in scoring 12, but with 8 of those points coming from the free throw line on 9 attempts. Otherwise, he was 2 out of 12 from the field while missing his 3 tries beyond the arc.
In fairness, fouls and free throws dominated ISU's offensive output as well as 36 of their 79 points came from the line. In total, 51 fouls were called between the two Indiana teams, which is significantly high compared to last season's average of 38.3 fouls per game. Now consider that 38.3 was the highest foul average since 2001, and you can imagine hordes of IUPUI fans yelling "let 'em play, ref!" Well, the horde of 3,159 in attendance.
Missouri State 64, Eastern Illinois 53
Marcus Marshall, the junior guard who was injured for most of last season, put the Bears on his back (click for full recap) and gave Missouri State time to figure things out on defense. Eastern Illinois lead for most of the game until Missouri State went on a 24-4 run with 11 minutes left in the second half.
Northern Iowa 64, North Dakota 52
UNI Coach Ben Jacobsen has begun his season by setting the school record for most career wins for a head coach at 167 wins, solidifying his legacy at Northern Iowa.
Seth Tuttle was his usual impressive self, scoring 24 with 9 rebounds, but it was Wes Washpun (Jr-G) who stormed off the bench to make slick assists and slip past defenders for 15 points. There's no reason to expect any less from Washpun who has played significant minutes before, but he took minutes away from starter Jeremy Morgan (So-G) who played ten minutes in the first half but was benched for the rest of the game. Morgan ended up scoring nothing on 3 field goal tries. Freshman guard Wyatt Lohaus also benefited from Morgan's cold shooting, coming in to play 18 minutes (scoring 3 with 2 assists and 2 rebounds).
Evansville 116, Earlham 45
Evansville did what they were supposed to against a NCAA DIII team that only won five games last season. Both DJ Balentine (Jr-G) and Mislav Brzoja (So-G) were over 20 points, with four more Purple Aces scoring in the teens against the Quakers.
Evansville scored the first 15 points and never looked back. However, let us for a moment honor Taylen Alexander, a junior guard for Earlham from Champaign, IL. Against DI opposition he scored 18, gathered 5 rebounds, and had his team's only block. His shooting percentage was 53.8 percent, which raised the team's shooting percentage to 29 percent. Without him, it would have been 22.4 percent.
Well done, Mr. Alexander.
Loyola (Chicago) 71, Rockhurst 58
Good job, Loyola, you beat a DII team by a significant margin. Let's just forget for a moment that you trailed 30 to 29 at the half. But seriously, the Rambler 21-5 run for the first 8 minutes of the second half was impressive. Either Head Coach Porter Moser has improved at making halftime adjustments, or the Ramblers started playing like a DI team.
Loyola JUCO transfer Montel James (Jr-F) lead in both points (19) and rebounds (8), which is an encouraging sign for the Rambler offense. Equally as important was the 30 minutes played by last year's MVC Freshman of the Year, Milton Doyle who had 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Doyle was injured over the offseason and it was uncertain how much he would play this season. He looked uninhibited by injury, though, so his presence is certainly welcome.
Loyola is going to play another DII team next, McKendree, before visiting Michigan State.
St. Louis 62, Southern Illinois 59
A close fought game between two young, rebuilding teams made for exciting basketball that shows SIU is trending upwards from their recent poor seasons, while SLU may still be a quality team but is unlikely to flash brilliance like last season.
At the same time, the game was frustrating and sloppy for both teams at times, and showed how they each need to improve. Read this recap by Charles Bowles for the full story.
Utah State 60, Illinois State 55
The ISU Redbirds were hoping to improve their chemistry with four returning starters, but instead gave up a seven-point halftime lead to a Utah State team that consisted of five entirely new starters. In this case, Utah State rode its starters to a comeback in spite of a relatively shallow bench that hardly played and only scored seven.
Although Illinois State had the lead for the first half and remained in the game throughout the second, most positives came from out rebounding Utah State 44 to 40 and receiving 14 turnovers, compared to handing the ball over 7 times. When the Redbirds actually shot the ball, though, the starters apart from Daishon Knight (Sr-G) seemed incapable of finding the net.
Knight did score 17, going 7 for 11 from the field and sinking his two free throws. DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, a JUCO transfer, came off the bench to record a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. The whole team's shooting percentage was at 35.8 percent, but the problem was a putrid 2 of 15 three point shots made for 13.3 percent from beyond the arc. Free throw attempts also came in as making 9 of 20.
UT-Arlington 86, Bradley 75
Omari Grier (Jr-G) is clearly a talented player for the BU Braves, but his 33 points aren't going to win many games if the rest of the starters only score 11 points combined. The Bradley bench did step up to a degree, especially juniors Mike Shaw and Warren Jones. Shaw was a force on the glass and lead the team with 9 rebounds, while Jones played starters minutes off the bench in his first game for the Braves, and managed 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals.
Highly anticipated freshman small forward Donte Thomas had an off game in his debut. Thomas did start, but after an 0 for 7 shooting performance with 4 turnovers he only finished with 11 minutes. He still has plenty of time to learn the college game, but Braves fans should perhaps temper their expectations for immediate contributions.
The UT-Arlington Mavericks were a study in contrast, as a balanced offensive attack and quality depth allowed bench players to be constantly rotated in with great success. By the end, the Mavericks had four starters score in the low teens and five bench players contribute on offense.
Bowling Green 77, Drake 58
If UT-Arlington had depth, then I don't know how to describe Bowling Green, which gave some amount of minutes to 15 players. Drake, on the other hand, only played with a four man bench. Drake never was close in this game, as the BG Falcons took an early 9 point lead that became 16 by halftime, and they never allowed the DU Bulldogs to threaten.
Quite simply, the Bulldogs don't have any firepower and, if their season opener is any indication, defenses will haven no problem shutting them down. While Bowling Green's final stat of 11 blocked shots was largely in part to Richaun Holmes (Sr-F) dominating defensively with 5 blocks in 21 minutes, six other defenders also recorded a block against Drake. Blocks aren't everything in defense, but the Falcons' relative ease in simply swatting the ball that Drake needs to find a different way to get shots into the basket.
EDIT: I forgot to mention that the reason for Drake's short depth was that two senior guards, Gary Ricks, Jr, and Karl Madison, were both suspended for three games for receiving "unsolicited extra benefits" in the 2012-2013 season. They will both return for the game against IUPUI on November 25.